Revolutionizing the eReader: Ramesh Mantha Talks Innovation and Next-Gen Product Development at Kobo
Upon its debut, the eReader transformed the reading experience by allowing bookworms to carry an entire library in the palm of their hand. But when innovation is at the heart of what you do, moving the needle doesn’t end there.
“Innovation has never been an end goal for us,” says Ramesh Mantha, senior vice president of product management at Rakuten Kobo Inc. “It’s all about learning and enhancing how people experience books.”
Since joining Kobo twelve years ago, Mantha has utilized his background in electrical engineering to merge both hardware and software development at Kobo. He’s witnessed the Canadian tech company’s inventive strides and has overseen some of its most compelling product developments, including the Aura H2O, one of the first waterproof eReaders; the Clara 2E, the company’s first eReader built with recycled and ocean-bound plastics; and, most recently, the Elipsa 2E, enabling readers to write directly onto books.
“At Kobo, we have agility, speed and the hunger to innovate, which is why we were the first company to market note-taking abilities on an eReader,” says Mantha. “This scrappier mentality comes from being the eReader underdog in a world with enormous global competitors.”
In conversation with Canadian Business, Mantha shares the advancements he’s witnessed in the eReader space, consumers’ evolving needs and the transformative power behind Kobo’s latest release designed for big thinkers.
How have you witnessed the eReader space evolve since joining Rakuten Kobo Inc.?
The most noticeable evolution has been innovation in the category. In the early days, eReaders were barely distinguishable, with the same screens and features, and a race to get to the lowest possible price point. In 2013, Kobo decided to buck this trend and try something different: a more premium, larger screen, high-resolution eReader with the Aura HD. It propelled Kobo on a journey of innovation, singularly focused on a better reading experience. More recently, with the Elipsa, we launched the first eReader with the ability to write directly onto your book.
Was note-taking a natural evolution for Kobo?
For nonfiction lovers, eBooks have not been their medium of choice due to the inability to annotate ideas next to key passages. Understanding this, incorporating note-taking and highlighting functionalities into our devices made perfect sense.
How do you stay in the know when it comes to readers’ evolving needs?
Our variety of teams work simultaneously to identify these changes. Kobo’s user experience and research team, for example, reports their market findings through customer surveys and sales data directly to the hardware development team, and they translate those findings into action. The data we collect doesn’t live in isolation; it allows us to better understand our users and figure out how to solve the problems they’re facing. We’re motivated by a shared purpose to make one’s reading experience better.
What differentiates the Elipsa 2E from other eReaders?
Our goal with Elipsa 2E was to build a device that can be the centre of your journey to understand a new topic. Central to this are both the books you read and the notebooks you write on. Within books, the reader can write directly onto the page of the book, circling words and writing in the margins. With notebooks, we recognized that when people have large handwritten notebooks full of ideas, searching for text is an important feature. You can search within handwritten notebooks and convert handwriting to text as needed. The Elipsa 2E also has document editing capabilities where handwriting can be converted to text, drawings or diagrams, and exported as a Word doc or PDF.
How do you envision the Elipsa 2E changing the reading experience for Canadians?
The Kobo Elipsa 2E allows for further engagement with ideas thanks to the new markup and highlight features made possible by the newly designed stylus. This transforms the entire reading experience as readers can now simultaneously capture their thoughts while reading. Canadians that previously preferred print books due to their ability to be marked up may now consider making the switch to eBooks. We consider it a game-changer.